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Four months ago you could wander out to the University of San Diego’s Cunningham Stadium for a Toreros practice and you’d see Brian Matusz raking the infield dirt near third base.
Yesterday you could have visited the stadium and Matusz, about to become a millionaire, was standing before a bank of microphones and television cameras answering questions.
The USD left-hander, widely considered by scouts as the top pitcher in college baseball, was the fourth pick overall Thursday by the Baltimore Orioles. He was the first pitcher drafted after three infielders — two high school and one college.
“It’s an exciting moment in my life,” Matusz said. “There were projections I would go to Baltimore, but I was unsure. I woke up this morning not knowing what team, but I had a good feeling about Baltimore. I was very excited when I saw my name up there.”
Matusz would have preferred to have been practicing this week, preparing to face Arizona State in the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals.
But the Toreros fell short of advancing when they lost to Fresno State in the finals of the Long Beach State regional.
“Going to Omaha was a big goal of mine,” said Matusz, referring to the site of the College World Series. “But this school will get there with these coaches. They do a great job. I’m excited for this program. I’m looking forward to watching them play in Omaha.
Matusz has four qualities pitches — fastball, curveball, cutter and changeup. He could be in the Major Leagues in a year or two and could be a team’s ace starter with maturity.
“He’s grown all three years he’s been here, and he’s gotten better every year,” USD pitching coach Eric Valenzuela said. “From the very beginning, there was no doubt he was going to be a top draft pick.”
Matusz played with the label of being a top five pick hanging over him all year, but he didn’t let it distract him from putting together a big junior season. Matusz was 12-2 as he led the NCAA in strikeouts with
114 and posted a 1.17 ERA. He was a first-team All-American and the West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year.
“People talked about it all the time, but being a top five pick was never my focus,” Matusz said. “My focus was to get better every day and help the Toreros win ball games. Coach (Rich) Hill and Coach Valenzuela did a great job of helping me maintain my focus.”
That’s one of the reason the future millionaire could be found raking the infield dirt just like one of the guys on the team.
Two other draft picks to note from Thursday’s first day were left-handed hitting first baseman Allan Dykstra by the Padres and USD left-handed pitcher/outfielder Josh Romanski by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Dykstra, a Rancho Bernardo High alumnus from Wake Forest, was the Padres’ first-round pick, the 23rd overall.
“I’m ecstatic about it. I was sitting here waiting and wondering and then I got a phone call from the Padres saying they wanted to draft me,” said Dykstra. “It’s a picture perfect situation, going home to the team I grew up watching. I knew they were interested in me, but I didn’t have any idea what round or what was going to happen. It’s one thing to be drafted in the first round, but it’s another to be taken by my favorite team. It’s a good situation, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of their organization.”
Dykstra, a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick, hit .323 for the season with 16 home runs and 50 RBIs. He was named a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top collegiate player.
Romanski, a third-team All-American, was taken in the fourth round. He was 9-1 on the mound and batted .324 with six home runs and 49 RBIs.
He’s projected as a potential big leaguer a pitcher our outfielder.
— TOM SHANAHAN